Let thyself be cursed rather than curse
Then Joab was brought before the
Court,2 and he [Solomon] judged and
questioned him, 'Why didst thou kill Abner?'3 He answered, 'I was
Asahel's4 avenger of blood.'5 'But
Asahel was a pursuer!'6 'Even so,' answered he; 'but he [Abner] should have
saved himself at the cost of one of his [Asahel's] limbs.'7 'Yet perhaps
he could not do so, remonstrated [Solomon]. 'If he could aim exactly at the
fifth rib,' he retorted, ('even as it is written, Abner with the hinder end
of the spear smote him at the
waist;8 concerning which R. Johanan
said: It was at the fifth rib, where the gall-bladder and liver are suspended.)
— could he not have aimed at one of his limbs?' Thereupon [Solomon] said:
'Let us drop [the incident of] Abner; why didst thou kill Amasa?'9 He answered:
'Amasa disobeyed the royal
order,10 for it is written, Then said
the King to Amasa, Call me the men of Judah together within three days etc.
So Amasa went to call the men of Judah together; but he tarried etc.' 'But,'
said he [Solomon], 'Amasa interpreted [the particles] 'Ak and Rak.'11 [Thus:]
he found them12 just as they had begun
[the study of] a tractate; whereupon he said: It is written, Whosoever he
be that shall rebel against thy [the King's] commandments and shall not hearken
unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to
death.13 Now, one might have thought
that this holds good even [when the transgression is committed] for the sake
of the study of the law: it is therefore written, only [Rak] be strong and
of good courage.14 But thou
thyself15 didst disobey the royal
order, for it is written, And the
tidings16 come to Joab, for Joab had
turned after Adonijah, though he had turned not after
Absalom.17 What is the purpose of
'though he had turned not.'18 — Rab Judah said: He wished to turn [after
him], but did not. And why did he not? — R. Eleazar said: David still possessed
his vitality.19 R. Jose the son of
R. Hanina said: David's star20 was
still in the ascendant, for Rab Judah said in Rab's
name:21 Four hundred children had
David, all the issue of yefoth to'ar; they had long locks, and used to march
at the head of the troops; it was they who were the men of power in David's
This [view of Joab] is in contradiction to the view held by R. Abba b. Kahana,
who said: But for David,22 Joab would
not have succeeded in23 war; and but
for Joab, David could not have devoted himself to [the study of] the Torah,
for it is written, And David executed justice and righteousness for all his
people, and Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the
host:24 — i.e., why was David able
to execute 'justice and righteousness for all his people'? — Because 'Joab
was over the host.' And why was 'Joab over the
host'?25 — Because 'David executed
justice and righteousness for all his people.'
And when Joab was come out from David he sent messengers after Abner and
they brought him back from
Bor-Sira.26 What meaning has [the
name] Bor-Sira? — R. Abba b. Kahana said:
Sira28 caused Abner to be
And Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him
quietly.30 R. Johanan said: He judged
him according to the law of the
Sanhedrin.31 Thus he asked him: 'Why
didst thou kill Asahel?' — 'Because Asahel was my pursuer.' 'Then thou shouldst
have saved thyself32 at the cost of
one of his limbs!' 'I could not do that,' [he answered]. 'If thou couldst
aim exactly at his fifth rib, couldst thou not have prevailed against him
by [wounding] one of his limbs?'
'To speak with him ba-sheli [quietly]:' Rab Judah said in Rab's name: [He
spoke to him] concerning the putting off [of the
shoe].33 'And smote him there at the
waist:' R. Johanan said: At the fifth rib, where the gall-bladder and liver
And the Lord will return his [Joab's] blood upon his own head because he
fell upon two men more righteous and better than
he.35 'Better,' because they interpreted
aright [the particles] 'ak and
rak,36 whilst he did
not;37 'More righteous,' because they
were instructed verbally,38 yet did
not obey, whereas he was instructed in a
letter,39 and nevertheless carried
But Amasa did not beware of the sword that was in Joab's
hand.40 Rab said: That was because
he did not suspect him. And he was buried in his own house in the
wilderness.41 But was his house a
wilderness?42 — Rab Judah said in
Rab's name: It was like a wilderness, just as a wilderness is free to all,
so was Joab's house free to
all.43 Alternatively: 'Like a wilderness'
means, just as a wilderness is free from robbery and
licentiousness,44 so was Joab's house
free from robbery and licentiousness.
And Joab kept alive45 the rest of
the city:46 R. Judah said: Even fish
broth and hashed fish he would merely taste and then distribute to the
Original footnotes renumbered.
For, as in this case, the curses always recoil on oneself
or on one's descendants.
This is a continuation of the narrative commenced on
48b, which was interrupted to shew that all David's curses were fulfilled
upon his descendants.
Cf. II Sam. III, 27.
Joab's brother, who pursued Abner when he fled for his
life, after having been defeated by Joab at Gibeon whilst fighting for
Ishbosheth, Saul's surviving son, v. II Sam. II, 23.
Cf. Num. XXXV, 19.
I.e., Abner, seeing his life in danger, killed him in
self-defence. Cf. II Sam. II, 8-32.
And so incapacitate him, instead of inflicting a mortal
wound. V. infra 74a: If one can injure his adversary in self-defence, but
kills him instead, he is guilty of murder.
II Sam. II, 23 [H] 'loins', 'waist', means also 'fifth'.
Hence R. Johanan's interpretation.
Son of Abigail, King David's sister, who commanded the
rebel army of Absalom. Subsequently he was pardoned by David and given the
command of the army when the rebellion of Shebah broke out (II Sam. XX).
On that account Joab saw a dangerous rival in him. II Sam. XVII, 25; XIX,
Lit., 'he rebelled against the throne.' This was punishable
[H], 'but'; [H], 'only', both denoting limitation.
The men of Judah.
Josh. I, 18.
Rak intimating a limitation. Hence the duty to fulfil
the King's command does not apply where one is engaged in the study of the
Law, According to the view held by Amasa, God's Law seemed more important
to him than the will of the King, and no transgression was involved in waiting
until they had finished their study.
Lit., 'that man.'
Of Solomon's ascent to the throne.
I Kings II, 28.
For the information that he did not turn after Absalom
seems superfluous at this point.
Lit., 'moisture'. But as soon as David became feeble
he inclined after Adonijah.
[H] (astrological power), symbol of his mighty
men upon whom he placed reliance in war, and who led him to victories.
V. nn. 4-5, supra p. 114.
Who studied the Torah continuously.
II Sam, VIII, 15-16.
I.e., why was he successful in war?
Ibid. III, 26.
[H] 'well', hence container of water, a pitcher.
[H] a thorn-bush.
The explanation of this statement is found in J. Sotah
I, where one of the reasons given for Abner's death was his indifference
to the effecting of a reconciliation between Saul and David, instead of seeking
which, he rather endeavoured to increase their hatred. He did not take advantage
of the following two occasions when he might have brought about the
reconciliation: One, when Saul entered the cave of En-Gedi where David and
his band were hidden, and the latter, though he could have destroyed his
pursuer, contented himself with merely cutting off the skirt of his robe
(I Sam. XXIV, 4). The second time, in the wilderness of Ziph, when David
found Saul sleeping and took the spear and jug of water from beside his head
(ibid. XXIV, 12ff), subsequently reproaching Abner for not watching better
over the King. Abner, however, made nought of this generous treatment of
Saul by David, contending that the jug of water might have been given to
David by one of the servants, whilst the skirt of the robe might have been
torn away by a thorn-bush, and left hanging. These two incidents are hinted
at in the words Bor (well, i.e., a jug of water), and Sira (a thorn-bush).
II Sam. III, 27.
This is inferred from the word 'gate', frequently denoting
'court'; cf. Deut. XXI, 19.
Lit., 'him', i.e., save the pursuer from committing
a crime, v. supra p. 326, n 8.
The word [H] is here derived from [H] to draw or pull
off. Joab is supposed to have inquired from Abner in what way a one-armed
woman would loosen the shoe in the ceremony of halizah (v. Deut. XXV, 9).
On his replying that she would do it with her teeth (cf. Yeb 105a), he asked
him to demonstrate it, and as he stooped low to do so, he smote him. This
incident is hinted at in David's words of farewell to Solomon: He (sc. Joab)
shed the blood of war in peace, — and put the blood of war in the shoes
that were on his feet (I Kings II, 5).
V. p. 326, n. 9.
And slew them with the sword. I Kings II, 32.
Signifying limitation. v. p. 326, n. 12. According
to this, the king's orders were not to be obeyed where they involved serious
transgressions; v. p. 327 n. 2, with reference to Amasa, Abner's attitude
is intimated in a reference to the murder of the Priests of Nob (v. I Sam.
XXII, 17). And the King said unto the guard that stood about him, turn and
slay the Priests of the Lord, but the servants of the king would not put
forth their hand to fall upon the Priests of the Lord. Cf. also supra 20a,
where, according to R. Isaac, Abner tried to restrain the king from committing
a murder, but without avail.
When the king directed him to expose Uriah the Hittite
to the enemy in such a manner as to ensure his destruction. V. II Sam. XI,
To kill the priests of Nob.
Ibid. XI, 14. And a verbal command by the king is stronger
than a mere written order.
II Sam. XX, 10.
I Kings II, 34.
Regarding 'in' as indicating apposition: i.e.,'in his
own house,' viz. 'the wilderness.'
I.e., Everyone was sure to find hospitality there.
Because it it not inhabited by men.
[H] lit., 'made alive,' (E.V.: repaired) i.e., fed.
I Chron. XI, 8.
I.e., even his smallest meal he would share with the
MISHNAH. FOUR DEATHS HAVE BEEN ENTRUSTED TO BETH DIN: STONING, BURNING, SLAYING
[BY THE SWORD] AND STRANGULATION.1
R. SIMEON ENUMERATED THEM THUS: BURNING, STONING, STRANGULATION AND
SLAYING.2 THAT IS THE MANNER OF
GEMARA. Raba said in the name of R. Sehora in the name of Rab: Whatever the
Sages taught by number is in no particular order, excepting the [Mishnah
of] the seven substances. For we learnt: Seven substances are applied to
the stain, viz., tasteless
saliva,4 the liquid exuded by crushed
beans, urine, natron,5
ashleg.8 Now, the latter clause [of
that Mishnah] states: If they were not applied in this order, or if they
were all applied simultaneously,9 the
test is inconclusive. R. Papa the Elder said in Rab's name: The same [exception]
applies to 'FOUR DEATHS etc'; for, since R. Simeon disputes the order, it
is to be inferred that it is exact. But the
other?10 — He does not refer to cases
[where the order] is disputed. R. Papa said: The order of Service on the
Day of Atonement is also exactly taught, for we learnt: All the rites of
the Day of Atonement which are prescribed in a particular order, if one was
performed out of its turn, it is invalid. But the
other?11 — That law is merely one
of added stringency.12 R. Huna, the
son of R. Joshua said: The order of the
Tamid13 is also exact, for in connection
therewith we have learnt: This is the order of the
Tamid.14 But the
other?15 — That [Mishnah] merely
teaches that the precept of the Tamid is best carried out in this
[Now reverting to Raba's statement] this ['whatever etc.'] is intended to
exclude the precept of halizah17 [from
the need of a particular order in its procedure], for we have learnt: the
precept of halizah is thus carried out: — He [the deceased man's brother]
and his sister-in-law come before Beth din, who counsel him in a manner fitting
for him,18 as it is written. Then
the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto
him.19 Then she declares: My husband's
brother refuseth etc.,20 whilst he
states: I like not to take her.21
The members of Beth din thereupon announce in
Hebrew:22 Then shall his brother's
wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and remove his shoe from
off his foot, and spit in his
sight23 — the spittle was to be visible
to the judges — Then shall she answer and say, So shall it be done unto
that man etc. … And his name shall be called in Israel etc. Now Rab Judah
said: The precept of halizah is carried out thus: [First] she declares [My
husband's brother refuseth etc.]; then he declares [I like not to take her];
then she removes his shoe and spits in his presence, and then she again declares
[So shall it be done etc.]. But we pondered thereon: What does Rab Judah
teach us? Is this not stated in the Mishnah? — Rab Judah teaches us this:
The precept is best carried out thus; but if the order was changed, it does
not matter. It has been taught likewise: Whether the halizah was performed
before the spitting or the reverse, the ceremony is efficacious.
Raba's statement above is also intended to exclude that which we learnt:
The High Priest officiates [in the Temple] wearing eight garments, but the
ordinary priest wears only four, viz., tunic, breeches, mitre and girdle;
to which the High Priest adds the breast plate, ephod,
robe24 and head plate. Now it has
been taught: Whence do we know that nothing must be donned before the breeches?
From the verse: [He shall put on the holy linen tunic,] and the linen breeches
shall [already] be upon his
flesh.25 But why does the Tanna give
precedence [in this enumeration] to the tunic? — Because it is given precedence
in Scripture;26 and why does Scripture
do this? — Because it prefers to state first that which covers the whole
STONING, BURNING, etc.
Stoning is severer than burning, since thus the
blasphemer28 and the idol-worshipper
are executed.29 Wherein lies the
particular enormity of these offences? — Because they constitute an attack
upon the fundamental belief of
Judaism.30 On the contrary, is not
burning more severe, since that is the punishment of a priest's adulterous
daughter; and wherein lies the greater enormity of her offence: in that she
profanes her father?31
Original footnotes renumbered.
The enumeration is in descending order of severity.
The Gemara discusses the consequences of this dispute.
This refers to the directions given in the Mishnah on
I.e., the saliva of one who had not eaten that day.
Nether ([G]) is correctly translated 'nitre' in Jer.
II, 22, where it signifies carbonate of soda, a cleansing agent. But by a
transference of terms 'natron' has been adopted to denote carbonate of soda;
whilst 'nitre' now denotes saltpetre, which has no washing properties.
A sort of soap.
A clay used in cleaning clothes.
A kind of alkali, or mineral used as soap. These materials
were applied to a red stain on a woman s garments, to ascertain whether it
is blood or a dye. If the stain disappears, it is blood; otherwise it is
And the suspicion of blood is attached to the stain.
Raba, why did he not cite our Mishnah as an exception?
R. Papa the Elder, why does he not include this latter
Mishnah among the exceptions?
I.e., Scripture, in insisting on a certain order of
ceremonial on the Day of Atonement, did not thereby ascribe greater sanctity
to any particular rite, but decreed the order merely as a matter of greater
stringency. having regard to the solemnity of the Day. But in those cases
cited as exceptions, the order is intimately bound up with the effectiveness
or importance of the things mentioned. E.g., in our Mishnah the order of deaths
is in descending severity; in the Mishnah treating of the test applied to
a stain, these materials, if applied in a different order, are actually
The daily burnt offering.
Tamid VII, 3; the preceding Mishnah enumerated its
rites: this Mishnah states that they must be performed in the order taught.
R. Papa, why does he not cite this too as an exception?
Yet if the order was not adhered to, the service is
Lit. 'drawing off', sc. 'the shoe'. The ceremony is
referred to in the text. By this act the widow is freed from the obligation
of Levirate marriage.
If, e.g., he is an old man, whilst his widowed
sister-in-law is a young woman, or vice versa, they advise him to repudiate
Deut. XXV, 8. 'Speak unto him' is interpreted as meaning
to advise him.
Lit., 'The Holy Language'. By this is meant the actual
Biblical text; v. M. H. Segal, Mishnaic Hebrew Grammar, p. 2.
Worn over the tunic.
Lev. XVI, the inserted 'already' is implied in the
use of the verb 'to be', [H].
Thus we see that the enumeration of the Tanna is not
according to the order in which the garments are donned.
Lev. XXIV. 14-16.
Deut. XVII, 2-5, i.e., a Jew who committed idol worship.
In this discussion on the relative severity of the different modes of execution
the painfulness of the deaths is not taken into account, but merely the gravity
of the offences for which they are imposed.
Since both are virtually a denial of the existence
of the true God. This is undoubtedly an assertion that the confession of
God is the cardinal tenet of Judaism — a dogma, in fact. Notwithstanding
the controversies that have arisen on the questions whether Judaism contains
any dogmas, there can be no doubt that the rejection of idolatry is a sine
qua non of Judaism. V. Schechter, Studies in Judaism: The Dogmas of Judaism.
Cf. also Y. D. 268, 2, on the admission of proselytes, of whom is demanded
the profession of belief in God and the rejection of idolatry.
V. infra 52b. This discussion, though refuted at a
later stage, is interesting as shewing the eminently practical character
of Judaism. Though adultery does not undermine the essential basis of Judaism,
it is nevertheless suggested that it is to be regarded as a greater offence
than idolatry, particularly where its results extend beyond the person of